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Dalton throws a seed, 42-14, as Bengals claim AFC North

Posted Dec 22, 2013

Andy Dalton pumped four touchdowns to became the second Bengals quarterback in history to reach 30 in a season as Cincinnati wrapped up its third straight playoff appearance and second AFC North title in five years with a 42-14 victory over the Vikings.

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The defense continued its season-long dominance at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday and Andy Dalton pumped four touchdowns to became the second Bengals quarterback in history to reach 30 in a season as Cincinnati wrapped up its third straight playoff appearance and second AFC North title in five years with a 42-14 victory over the Vikings before a sellout crowd of 61,555.

Scoring at least 40 points for the fourth straight home game, the 10-5 Bengals won the title four hours later when the Patriots routed the Ravens in Baltimore. New England can clinch the second seed with a win over Buffalo in next Sunday's finale even if the Bengals beat the Ravens on Sunday at PBS.

The win guarantees the Bengals their first home playoff game since 2009, a heady perk for a team that won its eighth straight at PBS and in this season's 7-0 run is averaging 34 points per game.

The Bengals need a win and a Patriots loss to get the second seed and a bye. They probably need a win to keep the third spot, too, and host either the Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers or Steelers, pending what happens next week. Both the Colts and Bengals are 10-5, but Cincinnati would get the third seed because it beat Indianapolis back on Dec. 8. If the Bengals lose and the Colts beat Jacksonville, they would flop seeds and the No. 4 Bengals would host the Chiefs.

In becoming the first Bengals head coach to ever make it to three straight postseasons, Marvin Lewis was hesitant to embrace the moment as he seeks his first playoff win in five tries.

“That’s a credit to the guys in there and it’s an awesome thing,” Lewis said. “It’s one more checkmark we can get off the wall and now is a chance to get another one. I look forward to that. Until you do people can always take shots at you and now that that’s done we can move on to the next one.”

Dalton hit 27 of 38 passes for 366 yards and a career-high passer rating of 136.5 while converting eight of 14 third downs. He became just the fourth starting quarterback in history to reach the NFL playoffs in each of his first three pro seasons.

Right tackle Andre Smith left the field with a slight limp after spraining his ankle in the third quarter and that shuffled up the offensive line, moving left guard Andrew Whitworth back to left tackle, left tackle Anthony Collins to right tackle and Kevin Zeitler going to right guard with Mike Pollak staying at left guard.

WILL backer Vontaze Burfict also left in the second half after he took a hit in the head, his return was questionable, and didn't return. But at that point, head coach Marvin Lewis began to think about sitting his people with the Ravens waiting at PBS next Sunday in the regular-season finale.

Dalton threw touchdown passes to wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and A.J. Green in the second half, giving him 31 for the season, one behind Carson Palmer's club record of 32 set in 2005.

The seven-yard touchdown to Sanu on the first drive of the second half was set up by rooking running back Giovani Bernard's wondrous 41-yard catch-and-run for his longest play from scrimmage this season. In one of his now patented zig-zags, Bernard began the run when he spun out of a tackle with a spin move after he got hit in the shoulder pads.

Green scored his second touchdown of the day and 10th of the season with 3:19 left in the third quarter when he made a juggling one-handed catch that he tipped to himself in the left corner despite a pass interference call on cornerback Chris Cook. Green had 97 yards on seven catches as he fell just short of his seventh 100-yard day of the season.

Linebacker Vinny Rey scored the defense's fifth touchdown of the season at home on his 25-yard interception return that gave Cincinnati a 21-7 lead over the Vikings that grew to 28-7 at halftime.

Dalton spiced that first-half effort with throws to Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham to give him a career-high 29 touchdown passes while the defense held Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to 34 yards on 10 carries in the first half with seven of those attempts going for three yards or less. Peterson finished with just 45 yards rushing on the day.

On the third snap of the game, Rey's sack shared with safety Reggie Nelson forced Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel's fumble and left end Carlos Dunlap carried it to the Vikings 4-yard line to set up the game's first touchdown. Both plays by Rey came on third down and why not? The Bengals came into the game holding foes to 20-for-80 on third down at PBS this season and they blanked Minnesota on its nine third-down tries while generating turnovers on two of those snaps.

Rey scored his touchdown on third-and-two from the Vikings 20 when he followed Cassel's eyes over the middle and reached out to pluck the ball intended for wide receiver Greg Jennings and he busted it back down the left sideline for his first NFL touchdown with 10:02 left in the first half.

The third turnover on of the half came courtesy of safety George Iloka's first NFL interception when Cassel had old friend wide receiver Jerome Simpson open running behind the secondary. But Cassel underthrew it, it hit cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in the facemask, and Iloka grabbed it as he was laying on the turf as the Bengals avoided what looked to be a pass interference call on Kirkpatrick.

After holding Peterson to four yards on the first two carries, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer called an all-out blitz and Cassel had to step up from safety Nelson and that's where he met Rey for the sack and strip. Dunlap picked up the ball and ran it 42 yards to the Vikings 4, where running back Toby Gerhart saved the touchdown.

After Dalton threw away a first-down play-action pass, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis walked in over the left side behind Andre Smith's pulling trap block 1:48 into the game.

But the offense couldn't take advantage of the ensuing three-and-out and the Bengals missed a huge chance to go up 14-0. On the first snap Dalton rolled out on a play-action and found Gresham for a 22-yard catch-and-run. But for the second straight game Gresham lost a fumble at the end of the run and the Vikings had a life at their 46 when strong safety Jamarca Sanford picked up the fumble.

After the beast-like wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson converted a reverse for 11 yards, Cassel found wide receiver Jarius Wright running wide open past Kirkpatrick for an easy 36-yard touchdown bomb after Kirkpatrick bit on the double move on the left sideline that made it 7-7 with 10:02 left in the first quarter.

The Vikings special teams showed up as advertised. Cassel's fumble negated Patterson's 48-yard kick return, adding to Patterson's NFL-leading total. Bengals tight end Orson Charles saved a touchdown on Patterson's second return of the day, a 44-yarder.

Then in a 7-7 game Shawn Powell's first Bengals punt went dangerously down the middle of the field and cornerback Marcus Sherels, the NFL's third-best punt returner, broke a a couple of tackles for a 22-yarder to the Minnesota 42.

But as usual, the defense rallied and won its third straight third-down conversion, forcing an incomplete screen pass to Patterson on third-and-six.

The Bengals responded with their seventh 90-yard touchdown drive of the season, capped by Dalton's pretty over-the-shoulder 29-yarder to Green to give the Bengals a 14-7 with 57 seconds left in the first quarter. Green beat Cook at the line of scrimmage with a move to the inside that he brought back outside down the right sideline.

Wide receiver Marvin Jones kept the drive alive on third-and-10 from the Vikings 49 when he caught an 18-yarder over the middle as Dalton hit seven of his first 10 passes. That one came courtesy of  Bernard's block on a blitz pickup, giving Dalton plenty of time. It also looked like Bernard got a piece of somebody in protecton on Green's touchdown. Dalton also hit both tight ends in the drive, Gresham for 11 and rookie Tyler Eifert for six on second-and-four when he walled off Cook on a throw over the midde for the first down.

Eifert left the game with a "stinger" after a hit on his shoulder later in that drive when he was blocking for Sanu's run as the quarterback out of the wildcat formation.

Dalton, 14-of-24 in the half for 180 yards and a passer rating of 109.7, countered the weak Bengals running game with BJGE and Bernard combining for 27 yards on 11 carries.

But the Bengals managed another touchdown when Dalton, having all the time he needed in the first half back in the pocket, converted a third-and-11 over the middle to Green for 17 yards. Then on third-and-10 from the Vikings 16, Dalton saw Gresham splitting Minnesota's Cover 2 zone down the middle with the safeties sucked outside and hit him in stride to make it 28-7 with 2:22 left in the first half.

PREGAME NOTES: SAM linebacker James Harrison was ruled out of Sunday's game against the Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium with a concussion, giving Michael Boley his first Bengals start.

Harrison went full in Friday's practice after missing practices early in the week following his concussion against the Steelers last Sunday night.

Harrison had been playing more snaps as a pass rusher before his injury and his deactivation put more stress on an already undermanned defensive line rotation that was also missing tackle Devon Still (back).

As expected, cornerback Terence Newman (knee) was inactive for the second straight game. Like last week, right guard Kevin Zeitler was active but Mike Pollak got his fifth straight start.

Also inactive for the Bengals were wide receivers Dane Sanzenbacher and Ryan Whalen, running back Rex Burkhead and tackle Dennis Roland.

Former Bengals figured to play a prominent in this one. Wide receiver Jerome Simpson appeared on the field about two hours and 15 minutes before the game and jogged toward the Bengals locker room and gave head coach Marvin Lewis a hug. He was standing near the end zone where two years ago this week he made his running flip for a touchdown complete with landing after making a catch.

"Oh yeah," Simpson said when he was reminded of the anniversary.

Shaun Prater, a 2012 fifth-round pick for the Bengals, made his second straight start for the Vikings coming off his first NFL interception last week. So with 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick making his second straight start in place of Newman, the Bengals 2012 draft was on display.

Lewis chose to announce the offensive starters before the coin toss.

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